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Chapter Four

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, 

Romans 12:1.

An Impossible Request

There is a belief so common in our age that it is invisible: There is a real you, an authentic you hidden in there. That authentic you is good and right. The trouble is that the “authentic-you” and the “public you” can’t always match up. It’s hard to be who you “really” are, and so you pretend and twist yourself into all sorts of shapes to get along. But this process of twisting and hiding comes at a cost. And so you find yourself depressed or anxious or anger or even manipulative as you try to negotiate this difference between the authentic-you and the public-you.

The Scripture has a different view of things. We should be authentic in our public life. This means that we should tell the truth and not seek to manipulate others. As Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply, ‘Yes’ or “No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Matt. 5:37 We need to avoid hypocrisy. So, you might think Scripture and therapy have the same view of things.

But Scripture does something quite different than therapy: Rather than seeking to help you be comfort in the expression of your authentic-self, Scripture directs transformation of that “authentic-you”.  Be authentic in the sense of having integrity; but do not settle for who you are at present.

This idea of comforting and aiding the “authentic-you,” is another way of “suppressing the truth” which Paul condemns in Romans 1:18. “I’m just this way!” is no defense to the Scripture’s instruction.

As Paul says in Romans 12:2, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind”.  This is precisely the opposite of our therapeutic culture. 

This is completely consistent with the doctrine of the Fall. The therapeutic culture takes what we see around us and what we see in ourselves as “normal.” The present age with its values and judgments is “normal.” What most people do and accept is “normal.” What we want and desire “by nature” is normal.  

The Scripture presents a strikingly different picture. This world is anything but normal. The world is under a curse. Paul refers to our time as “this present evil age”. Gal. 1:4. John tells us to “not love the world neither the things in the world.” 1 John 2:15.

Jesus explains that our standard operating system is the source of trouble, not the means of our deliverance:

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus, he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” 

Mark 7:14–23.

Rather than seeing our heart as intrinsically good, Jesus speaks of it as a source of “defilement”. What need is not to protect our authentic self; rather we need to be fundamentally changed from the inside-out. This is not therapy but rather transplant surgery. 

The therapist could not offer something so radical, because the therapist cannot provide a place outside of this present evil age. The therapist is bound up inside of this world. Moreover, we lack the power to change our own hearts. It is not “natural” to love your enemies.

But we will not rely upon our own power. Instead, we will rely upon the Spirit God who uses the Word of God to create and transform the People of God. 

But what about ….

You might think, but don’t other religions speak about change? Not in the way which the Scripture does. For example, Eastern religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism may speak about detaching yourself from the “illusion” of this life. But that is not really seeking a change of your heart. It is instead a call to renounce the creation – and thus also to renounce the Creator. What Christianity calls for a transformation of who you are by means of a new relationship with the Creator not a rejection of the creation.

I appeal to you

Depending upon the translation before you, Paul is either “urging” or “appealing” to the Romans. It is an interesting word, whose exactly meaning depends upon the context. It has the sense of calling to some-one but the range of meaning can run comforting another to admonishing. Since Paul adds that he is calling to them “by the mercies of God,” the sense must be in terms of comfort or encouragement rather than rebuke.

So, while the effect is to give instruction, these are not the words of a drill sergeant making demands but of a wise friend directing your action toward something better. This is a favorite expression of Paul. It is the position of one stands ahead of us on the way and who calls us up to himself, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” 1 Corinthians 4:16.

We should probably read this command in Romans 12:1 with Paul desire for the Romans expressed earlier in the letter

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 

Romans 1:11–12.  That phrase “be mutually encouraged” is our word, again. Paul is writing to the Romans to encourage them; not to crush them. And if there is correction in direction, it is correction for our happiness and holiness.

We must keep in the mind, the encouragement, the appeal, of Paul: he wants our good. If fail to understand his goal and his love, the whole will be discouraging. 

It could sound discouraging, because it sounds so unrealistic. When you read through the instruction of this chapter, Paul is requiring responses which seem self-defeating and contrary to all experience – even our experience in Church.

Paul encourages true humility. 

We all know the modestly boastful person, the one who “puts himself out there” and is given public and “prestigious” “ministry” assignments (that we can actually think about ministry in terms of prestige demonstrates how wrong we can be). A 2005 interview of Eugene Peterson by Christianity Today contained a section which illustrates this point perfectly”

Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there was ecstasy, there was dance. “We got girls over here, friends. We got statues, girls, and festivals.” This was great stuff. And what did the Hebrews have to offer in response? The Word. What’s the Word? Well, Hebrews had festivals, at least!

Still, the one big hook or benefit to Christian faith is salvation, no? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Is this not something we can use to legitimately attract listeners?

It’s the biggest word we have—salvation, being saved. We are saved from a way of life in which there was no resurrection. And we’re being saved from ourselves. One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus.
But the minute we start advertising the faith in terms of benefits, we’re just exacerbating the self problem. “With Christ, you’re better, stronger, more likeable, you enjoy some ecstasy.” But it’s just more self. Instead, we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus.

We’ve all met a certain type of spiritual person. She’s a wonderful person. She loves the Lord. She prays and reads the Bible all the time. But all she thinks about is herself. She’s not a selfish person. But she’s always at the center of everything she’s doing. “How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person’s problem better?” It’s me, me, me disguised in a way that is difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.


But Paul is not after a veneer of humility which gives greater room for a heart of pride. Paul is going after the death of one form of life. He is going to call this an actual sacrifice. Since we live in a world without animal sacrifices, we use the word to refer to inconveniences, but Paul has slaughter in mind.  

Paul encourages blessing those who cause us injury; and we all have seen church leaders use their office to control, manipulate, and take revenge upon others all with an air of holiness. And yet he suffers no consequence; because if the “pastor” does it, it must be okay. 

And so, Paul’s instruction seems not merely beyond our ability but beyond our experience. It would be easy to think, why should I be the only one who practices humility or loves an enemy or holds my tongue. He gossips and I suffer in silence!

But all the failures in the world—our own, and the failure of others—should not discourage us from following Paul. This instruction is for our encouragement. 

How can such hard things be an encouragement?

In John 15, Jesus speaks of how all of spiritual vitality comes from “abiding in” him. He is the vine and we are the branches. How then do we abide in him?

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 

John 15:9–10

It is an expression of love to Christ 

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 

John 14:15. If we do not keep his commandments, we do not love God:

 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 

John 14:24

Our knowledge of Christ is in keeping his commandments:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 

 1 John 2:3–6. 

These commandments are not burdensome:

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 

1 John 5:3.

It is required of us:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ 

Matthew 7:21–23. 

It is the only wise way to live in this world:

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 

Matthew 7:24–27

The life of the church described in Romans 12 is a life of self-sacrifice; but it is the life to which we have been called:

19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 

1 Peter 2:19–21.

But isn’t this “legalism”? The short and the long answer is , “No.”  A faith is merely a vaguely held personal opinion is not real faith:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

James 2:14–17. Would anyone believe a man who says he loves his wife and yet has never come home in 20 years? Our obedience earns us nothing. But we were saved to bring about this obedience:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) 

But this is too difficult

We have considered the mercy of God is, so we need not go over that again. Here we need to understand something different: that mercy of God becomes a basis upon which God call us to be merciful. In Colossians 3, Paul gives a series of instructions for the life of the church which are parallel to much of Romans 12, but there is something interested embedded in the middle of this list:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

Colossians 3:12–14.  At end of verse 13 we see, “as the Lord has forgiven you.” That mercy of God is the basis for our mercy to others; the love of God is the basis of our love for others; the forgiveness of God is the basis of our forgiveness for others.

Here is the connection between God’s actions and our own.

While God could simply make demands upon us (he, being our Creator would have such a right), he does not require of us anything which he first does not provide. God does us good, and then asks us to imitate him in doing good:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

Matthew 5:43–48. God gives life and breath and rain to even those who hate him, those who were unjust. Think of it: When Jesus was being falsely accused and murdered, God had to keep his murders alive and give them sufficient reason to kill. 

There is something more here: God not only leaves us an example to follow (1 Peter 2:21), but he gives us a life in which such actions and affections are possible. The love of God transforms us and causes to live a different life:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 

2 Corinthians 5:14. And the act of coming to know Christ we are transformed into his image: the one who died for us:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

2 Corinthians 3:18.

God provides a basis for what he commands of us. But there is more. Another reason we balk at this life of humility is that it feels we will do this work for nothing. I am humble, he boasts and look at all the good which comes to him!

But the Lord does not see it the same way:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

Matthew 6:1–4. And that reward will be worth the wait:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

 1 Peter 1:6–7. So let the Pharisee parade his works before others; you wait for the Lord’s reward and you await the Lord’s judgment:

So the last will be first, and the first last.

Matthew 20:16. 

What of those who have harmed you? It feels like injustice: the wrongdoer gets away with his wrong. But God has already anticipated that concern:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 

Romans 12:19.

An Entirely New Way of Living

We are called to a way of life far more transformative, with far greater demands than we seem to imagine. The baseline, the given for the world into which we were born is fundamentally at odds with the life of this new world. It is as if you were born in the depths of the sea but now must live in outer space. 

Read this section from the Sermon on the Mount and do not try to soften the words, do not try to reconcile these statements with what is “possible” but just consider them as they must have sounded to those who first heard them:

2 “And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:2–12. How can being poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering, merciful, pure, peacemaker, persecuted, reviled, slandered be at all “good” things as we normally count good things? Or look at this language from 1 Peter

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 

1 Peter 2:18–21. If you are a servant and if you are beaten and if it was done to you unjustly you are called to endure this with grace! If you are the victim of injustice, you are called upon to respond in a manner which seems impossible. You are supposed to love these people:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43–48. How does one “love” an enemy? None of this is to deny injustice, maltreatment. None of this pretends like any of this easy. It will require a kind of death. It is impossible, if we remain the people we were at the moment of salvation. 

This is a manner of life so very radical and demanding that it seems an impossible way to live, even among the people of God. 

It will be a manner of life in which God may take us to the point of despair so that he can rework our lives to be fit for his kingdom:

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 

2 Corinthians 1:5–10. 

Our redemption begins a life; it is not the end-point. That is why we are called to have a new mind; we must become different people on the inside and only as that thing which we experience ourselves to be changes will follow in this way:

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:17–24. 

We are being called to give away an entire way of understanding the world. This is more dangerous and difficult than walking to the South Pole or walking on the moon. It is a thing which is impossible for a human being alone; and is only possible to the extent that the Word of God and the Spirit of God transform our minds that we can become conformed to the new life which has been given to us. 

And so, there is a way in which Paul’s language of appeal defines this path. We are not slaves being driven down a road. He does not command this manner of life, because it is only fit for those who love Jesus; who will take up a cross and follow. This must be willing: and if it is not willing, then let us stop saying we love Jesus and would die with him.  Far too often we are like the disciples who all fled on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. So particularly stalwart will wait until they are in the high priest’s courtyard before we run off. 

And yet we are called to those same disciples, who after the coming of the Spirit were willing to risk life and freedom for Jesus. Jesus has risen from the dead and has overcome the world, sin, and death. Let us live like that is true. 

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

1 O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown!
O sacred Head, what glory,
what bliss till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call thee mine.

2 What thou, my Lord, hast suffered
was all for sinners’ gain.
Mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve thy place.
Look on me with thy favor,
and grant to me thy grace.

3 What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest Friend,
for this, thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever,
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love to thee.